On July 9th, 2012, Anoka High School student Justin Aaberg committed suicide. Here in Minnesota, when a kid commits suicide we don’t talk about it; often the other kids in the school are never told. There’s just a funeral service and a yearbook page but no discussion, no action, no response. But, Justin was one of several kids who successfully took their own lives in the Anoka Hennepin School District, the largest school district in Minnesota, and they were among a much larger group who came close to doing so, because they were gay or thought to be so, and were thus bullied and shunned and treated poorly by people from across the entire community, including students, teachers, school administrators, public officials, parents, and members of the general public. Putting this a slightly different way, the Anoka-Hennepin School District, which considerably overlaps with anti-gay Congressperson Michele Bachmann’s school district, is one of the most actively homophobic geographical entities in the country. Homeless youth in this area are often, by some estimates about half the time and certainly more than 35% of the time, homeless because their parents discovered that they were gay and threw them out, or bullied them into leaving. The attempted and successful suicide rates and related problems in the Anoka County School district were reached such a severe level that the US Center for Disease Control declared the problem a serious health emergency and launched an investigation. The first response of the education community, including many teachers and administrators, was to enact a policy in which no one would be allowed to say anything about anything. Ya. Here in Minnesota, when a bunch of kids commit suicide we just don’t talk about it.
Anoka, the city, which is in Anoka County and part of this school district, is the Halloween Capitol of the world. You probably already knew that. I’m not sure why this is the case and at the moment I’m not too interested to find out, even though it is the next town over from where I live. The thing is, Anoka has a big huge parade for Halloween, and all the usual groups march in it. Everyone is welcome and everyone has a great time.
Unless of course you are some kinda gay thing. Justin’s Gift is a non profit that formed after Justin’s death to raise money to help at risk youth and address bullying in the district. Justin’s gift and allied organizations have been organizing things like the annual Youth Gay Pride festival. And 30 Kids linked to Justin’s Gift wanted to march in the parade, but of course, they were refused. The reason given? “Too many people already marching in the parade. Can’t fit the 30 kids.”
Which, of course, is bullshit.
So, one off the moms in the district has gotten peeved and instead of being Minnesota nice and merely walking away after passing around a stern look, she has started a petition on Change.org, and we need you to sign it. Click here to sign it, and please pass it around.
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